The New American Family: Living Apart Together

ByABC News via via logo

May 31, 2006 — -- Laurie Winter and Marvin Frank have a great family life, and they have been a couple for almost nine years.

They go to barbecues, out for fancy dinners, and sailing with Winter's kids. One thing they don't do is live together.

"I have my stuff. He has his stuff," Winter said. "We can maintain our independence."

Like Woody Allen and Mia Farrow -- who once famously lived across Central Park from one another -- marriage and living under one roof are just not the way Winter and Frank define their partnership.

Last year, a survey-based British study conducted by the Family Demography Unit at the Department of Social Policy at Oxford University estimated that 1 million couples in Great Britain were currently in similar relationships.

The National Marriage Project at Rutgers University found that these relationships, called "living apart together" or L.A.T. relationships, were on the rise in the United States as well.

"I like being in relationships, but I wasn't in any rush to get married," said Winter, who is divorced and has two daughters, Jennifer, 20, and Allison, 14.

Winter said her relationship with Frank worked for her because she valued her independence. She also said that she believed their relationship was revitalized when they got back together after a few nights apart.

"It's like a first date every time," she said.

At the same time, Frank and Winter have the stability of a long-term relationship.

"Our relationship is all the same things as a married couple would have, but without being married," Frank said.

The couple met on a blind date. For Winter, the question of marriage came up quickly.

"He had never been married, and he said, 'I don't ever really want to be married,' and I said, 'Well, you know, that's fine with me, because I don't plan to, either,'" she said.

Frank also wanted to keep his bachelor's pad and not live full time in the suburbs.

"I didn't want to give up my city lifestyle," said Frank, a private investor.

The two have figured out a routine that works for them.

Frank commutes to Winter's place and pitches in for groceries and other expenses. Both acknowledge it's a nontraditional arrangement, but Winter wouldn't have it any other way.

"Good Morning America" parenting contributor Ann Pleshette Murphy said that this kind of arrangement was best if both people were independent, both personally and financially.

"It's great for older couples, established in their lives, who have their own commitments and routines and are loath to change them," she said.

"Their own possessions, financial arrangements, even morning-person versus night-owl differences are stumbling blocks, but when they maintain their own homes, these problems are alleviated."

Also, Murphy said there was some evidence that keeping a husband or wife out of the home might be helpful for children in blended families because approximately two out of three second marriages failed.

Winter said she had not ruled out marriage with Frank.

"We talk about this all the time. 'What if? When if?'" she said. "I see us being together in some form or fashion forever."

Winter said her daughters were very clear about who their father was. Their biological father remains very involved in their lives. Winter and Frank still believe marriage is the best option if they want to have children together. It's an institution Winter said she still considers important.

Murphy said Winter and Frank would not send the wrong message to the daughters if they remained serious about commitment.

"Adults must be clear that not being married doesn't mean that they aren't committed to their partner," she said. "Some experts fear that this kind of arrangement tells kids that you don't have to adapt, make compromises or sacrifices to be with your partner, that relationships have a give and take."

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